Monday, January 23, 2006

And More About Boys

One of the more interesting comments in Newsweek's current piece about the male of our species, The Trouble With Boys, comes from Michael Thompson, the author of "Raising Cain". "Boys measure everything they do and say by a single yardstick," he said: "does this make me look weak? And if it does, he isn't going to do it."

Isn't this exactly what I was saying yesterday, Bush? Except that I was saying it about men. The trouble with boys, as I see it, is not that they will be boys--which is fine with me--but rather that too many of them fail to grow up. With the result that we have a surfeit--not of girlie men, as Arnold would have it--but of boy-men. Too many men who are still boys. And it's not just that they're boys at heart. I have no objection to that, Bush, either. It's good, I think, to be in touch with that boyish heart. No, I mean men who remain boys in their emotional development. The world abounds in men who measure everything they say and do by that same yardstick: does this make me look weak?

You'll forgive me, Bush, but this is the stunted growth I see too much reflected in the policies of your administration, starting from the top. The "war on terror", the invasion of Iraq--these seem like the actions of men who have a dread of looking weak, and need to assert their strength in order simply to prove it. But the same yardstick affects almost every other action and policy. Education, for example: be tough on those kids, be tough on those teachers. Test them. Standardize them. In politics, the loud, unrelenting attack on the "bleeding hearts" of liberals. On those who would be so weak-knee'd as to choose sissy negotiation over bellicose patriotism. In the field of crime, compassion is out, the death penalty is in. Three strikes and you're out is in. Long prison sentences are in. Regarding social programs and welfare for the poor, it's the old bootstraps theory. Tough it out. And so on, ad infinitum.

You evidently pride yourself, Bush, on looking tough and acting tough. Trouble is, the posturing becomes transparent, and strength begins to look more like weakness. Real strength, as I see it, involves acknowledging vulnerability. It involves, sometimes, a tender heart. It involves an ability to recognize mistakes when we make them, and a readiness to change. There's that wise old fable, Bush, of the oak and the willow: when the high winds come, the willow bends, gracefully, while the oak, incapable of flexibility, stands tall--and gets knocked down.

I know from personal experience--I was once a boy myself, as I suspect that you were, too--how boys learn that it is dangerous, amongst other boys, to give vent to your feelings. If they see it, they will take advantage of your fear, your anger, your pain, and taunt you with it. So you learn to cover these things up, to steel yourself, to put on the full armor of strength. And you learn it so well that it becomes a part of the way you present yourself to the world. It becomes your posture. And all too often the ceaseless effort that it takes to maintain that posture against all the dreadful things that life can fling in your direction gets to be too much, and you find yourself resorting to other means to protect the soft, vulnerable core: you turn, unconsciously, to alcohol, or drugs, work, or women...

What we need to teach our boys is that "manly" strength involves an acknowledgment of the fact that all human beings are fallible, including men and boys, and that it's no disgrace to admit there are things beyond our ability to handle by strength alone. They need to know that "winning" does not necessarily involve another man's humiliation or defeat, and that negotiated settlement does not necessarily imply one's own defeat. Had certain folks in your administration learned that lesson, Bush, I think this country would be doing less in the way of strutting around the world stage with a big stick as though we owned the place--and looking, frankly, rather ridiculous as we do so--and more in the way of listening to the views and needs of our fellow world-citizens.

Strength, Bush, is an illusion. It saddens me that you have bought into it, and brought so many along with you for the ride.

1 comment:

PK said...

Well written Peter.